June 12, 2000 -- So you surf the Internet for an hour a day. OK, maybe for
three hours -- or five. At what point does this fascination become so
compulsive that psychologists would call it an addiction?
Psychologist Kimberly S. Young, MD, PhD, founded the Center for On-Line
Addiction (http://www.netaddiction.com) to help people with just this problem.
She's identified eight key symptoms. Take a look at her list. If five or more
apply, Young suggests you consider talking to a mental health professional
about your Internet use.
- Preoccupation -- You think constantly about previous online activity or
keep looking forward to the next online session. Some people crave time on the
Internet the way a smoker craves a cigarette.
- Increased use -- You need to spend increasing amounts of time online to
achieve satisfaction. A parent who's spending 50 hours a week in a chat room
might neglect basic responsibilities such as doing laundry or making dinner for
- Inability to stop -- You can't cut back on your Internet use, even after
several attempts. Some people can't stop visiting chat rooms while at the
office, even though they know their bosses are monitoring the sites they visit.
- Withdrawal symptoms -- You feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable
when you attempt to stop or cut down Internet use. Some people feel so grumpy
in jobs where they can't go online that they make excuses to go home and use
- Lost sense of time -- Everyone lets time slip by occasionally while on the
Internet. Consider it a problem if it happens to you consistently when you're
online and you're also experiencing some of the other symptoms on this list.
- Risky behaviors -- You jeopardize a significant relationship, job, or
educational or career opportunity because of Internet use. One man decided to
leave his wife of 22 years for someone he had corresponded with on the Internet
for a couple of months.
- Lies -- You lie to family members, a therapist, or others to conceal the
extent of your involvement with the Internet. Someone who's seeing a therapist
for depression might not tell the therapist about her Internet use.
- Escape to the Internet -- You use the Internet as a way to avoid thinking
about problems, or to allay depression or feelings of helplessness. One CEO
constantly downloaded pornography for stress relief at work.
Lisa Winer is an assistant editor at WebMD.